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Hyperion Records

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The Road from Arras to Bapaume (1917) by Christopher Richard Wayne Nevinson (1889-1946)
Imperial War Museum, London
Track(s) taken from CDH55464
Recording details: December 2001
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by John Timperley
Release date: June 2002
Total duration: 8 minutes 27 seconds

'A fascinating and rewarding discovery … performances, production and presentation are all past praise, and this is a disc already earmarked for my Critics’ Choice come the year’s end' (Gramophone)

'Excellent singing and committed playing on this disc' (BBC Music Magazine)

'It surely deserves a place in the repertory: English music has nothing quite like it' (The Sunday Telegraph)

'This handsomely presented disc is a rarity worth investigating' (The Observer)

'Coles’s own orchestral skills are amply demonstrated by the lush, full-bodied playing of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Coles emerges as one of the great lost hopes of British music' (The Independent)

'The six pieces recorded here justify the mourning of an unfulfilled talent' (International Record Review)

'I listened to it this week, and was moved to something dangerously adjacent to tears … what you chiefly hear in Coles’s compositions is nobility, haunting beauty and a strange, almost prophetic sense of tragedy’ (The Times)

'The works here show the power and intensity of a major talent' (Classic FM Magazine)

'My reactions to the music, even after listening to the disc for some weeks, still oscillate between amazement, melancholy, and gratitude, although they are gradually melding into a fusion of all three. I don’t doubt that it will affect you too' (Fanfare, USA)

'His music, touched by post-echoes of Brahms, Mendelssohn and Wagner, yet speaking unmistakably in its own accent, lives on in this outstandingly recorded new issue' (HMV Choice)

'The work’s surviving fragments receive their premiere recording on this Hyperion disc, which sees Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony doing a terrific job on behalf of the composer' (Music Week)

'The music is solemn, poignant and majestic in conductor Brabbins’ orchestration … a genius? Yes, I think so. A great loss to music? Absolutely' (MusicWeb International)

'Dedicated performances beautifully recorded and fervently commended' (Yorkshire Post)

'Hyperion Records are to be applauded for resurrecting Behind the lines and the other works included here … all is beautifully played and sung, and warmly recommended' (The Western Front Association)

'Les interprétations de Brabbins sont proches de l’idéal et les musiciens écossais servent leur compatriote avec ferveur et précision' (Le Monde de la Musique, France)

Four Verlaine Songs
No 1 originally called The River
author of text
translator of text
published 1904

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Four Verlaine Songs (or ‘Verlaine Lieder’ as the front cover of the manuscript states) for soprano and orchestra were Coles’s first significant work to be composed in Stuttgart, though from the unmarked condition of the score and parts, they were probably left unperformed. A version for tenor and orchestra (in piano reduction), omitting the third song, also exists, and was sung at the Royal College of Music in 1921. Coles’s interest in French poetry may indicate an enthusiasm for the mélodies of Fauré, Chausson, Debussy and Ravel, all of whom composed settings of Verlaine. Certainly French traits such as the predilection for sumptuous ‘sound moments’, deli­cate scoring, and seductive harmony form part of the opulent language of these fine miniatures, and the spirit of the French mélodie, with its elegance and refined strophic designs, inhabits Coles’s style. This is certainly evident in the simple, two-verse scheme of Fantastic in appearance (completed in May 1909 and originally called ‘The River’) with its luxuriant opening progressions (I–IV9) and arresting shift from the dominant of E minor to the dominant of E flat (‘Pure, through the suburb’s peacefulness’), and the artless legerdemain of the Pastoral (‘The sky is up above the roof’).

More enigmatic and satirical, however, is Let’s dance the jig, which, in its stoical acceptance of lost love, seems to com­bine a delicate French harmonic palette with a more earnest German scheme of developing variation. Of all the four songs it is A slumber vast and black (‘Un grand sommeil noir’) that is most redolent of the progressive post-Wagnerian language Coles would develop in his other songs (notably his settings of Heine and von Liliencron) and his later orchestral works. Set in B major, that most Tristan-esque of keys, the song embarks with a sequence of solemn chromatic progressions scored for divided cellos, cor anglais, and horns which evoke that passio­nate, yet despairing air of the last act of Tristan und Isolde. The harmonic control here and throughout the song demonstrates just how far Coles had developed from the more immature pages of From the Scottish Highlands of 1905/7. Indeed, the massive architectural climax, marked by tremolando strings and the positively Mahlerian inner voice of horns in their lowest register, reveals a composer who was already in possession of an enviable technique.

Coles set these four Verlaine poems in loose translations which, though not acknowledged by the composer in the sur­vi­ving manuscripts, were taken from Poems by Verlaine, selected and translated, with an introduction, by Ashmore Wingate, published in London and Newcastle in 1904 by the Walter Scott Publishing Company. These translations—some of which had been set by a fellow Scot, Sir John Blackwood McEwen, in 1905—were some of the first English translations of Verlaine to be available.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2002

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